Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pop-up Tea Shop

Rose and vanilla tea, complete with cosy, and accompanied by old-fashioned carrot cake, Pop-up Tea Shop, August 31 2014

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 52
Some enterprising people ran a pop up tea shop in the Grey Lynn Library Hall today.  It was Etsy made manifest, with cakes and fancy tea, all proceeds to Plunket.  My niece ate the largest oreo I've ever seen and I had old-fashioned carrot cake.  It was twee in a fantastic English/hipster/Ponsonby kind of way.  We really liked it.

Collins gets a cheer

This post is part of the 100 Days Project 

Day 51

I was in my hairdresser's making an appointment today and the owner was on reception, so we got to shooting the sh*t a little, as you do.  Things turned political and I was astonished to hear that Judith Collins' resignation had drawn a spontaneous cheer in the salon when it was announced.  
The times, they are a-changin.

When someone you care about goes left

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 46

I wrote earlier about how you get the chance to become a better person when someone you care about has a different political perspective, because this forces you to you listen properly and consider a different view.  And when I say 'you' I really mean 'me'.
Imagine my unbridled delight therefore, on hearing that the sole National voter in my life is thinking about voting Labour.  I got an email inviting me to get lunch and talk about left issues, an opportunity which I used to expound on progressive taxation and why those top tax-bracket earners don't really lose out as much as you might think.  By the time I finished on that she was already talking about secondary tax being too high, the need for capital gains tax and the benefits of wealth redistribution for allowing upward mobility.  
I can't take any of the credit for the sea-change - Labour is really only a shade or two to the left of National, my friend's mother has started working with the homeless which is having a big impact, and Dirty Politics has probably created more swing voters than anyone wants to admit.  
But that's not stopping me metaphorically skipping the halls and singing about it.  Not for a second.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Shallow as sh*t

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 45

Yeah - I like learning stuff about the treaty and writing a bit about politics.  I critique various tropes on the nets and talk about media representation.  I'm reading Dirty Politics at the moment and I know I have to hurry up so I can pass it to my parents-in-law per my grown-up niece's instructions (as compared to either of my baby nieces who are certainly in a position to give instructions but not necessarily with any expectation of them being followed).  
But this post is about leggings.  As a nearly 40-year old average-sized woman, social mores dictate I shouldn't be wearing them, especially to work, but I do anyway.  I get them mostly from blackmilkclothing.com, and I was recently saddened to see that my two favourite pairs (Galaxy Red and Artoo and Threepio) are no longer available.  Just in case I ever wanted to replace them.
Of course it doesn't hurt that both designs draw compliments.  The Galaxy Red design usually gets them from women, while the Artoo and Threepio effort is like a magnet for men of a certain age - not in a creepy way, but as a conversation starter, peer to peer.  Down at the half-pipe in the park or the comic book store kind of styles (I'm referencing specific events).  Because I'm modest enough to wear them with long tops which cover the character's heads it takes people a moment to translate what they're seeing.  Then they make the comment.
It's not all bread and roses.  The design is too small in the waist for my proportions, so I have a stomach dimple when I wear them, and after a day at a desk I'm usually plucking at my waistband.  But I don't care.  There's something to be said for a piece of clothing which does so much work in projecting my identity into the world just a little ahead of my arrival.  When you get to be a certain age you're supposed to avoid the word 'cool' as a signifier for something which engenders near-universal peer approval, but if anything could be said to do that, these leggings are they.  It's shallow as sh*t, but I really like that about them.

Surviving super long-haul

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 44
One of the ways I enjoy engaging with the world most is through travel.  I've been reading a few kind of lame travel-related blogs recently, simply because they tickle my brain with memories of times well-spent and the hope of more to come.  I'm sadly fascinated by advice on how to travel light as baggage complexity and weight is a real make or break in terms of travel enjoyment, but I also like lists.  Lists of what to pack, lists of where to go and what to do, lists of attractions to visit etc etc. So here, for the reading enjoyment of I'm-not-sure who, is my set of tips on surviving the long-haul from New Zealand to Europe, which is about as far as it's possible to travel before you start inadvertently coming back the other way.
1) Choose an airline with individual inflight entertainment available. This is the one thing I ask of my airline.  It's usually universally available on super-long-haul but double-check if you're going ultra-cheap.
2) Wear comfortable clothing which won't lose its shape after 36 hours of sitting and will allow for layering so you can adjust to different temperatures.  I once wore a viscose maxidress which was comfortable enough but had a giant ass-bulge in it by the time I reached my destination.  Not the best look when you're meeting people for the first time.  Cotton underwear, a non-underwire bra, properly fitting stretch jeans with at least a mid-rise, a t-shirt and a cardigan are my usual go-tos.
3) Wear a large rectangle scarf - it's great for extra warmth, you can cover your face with it if the lights are on and it's just a bit nicer than the usual blankets on offer.
4) Wear shoes you can walk comfortably in and also easily put on and take off, and which will allow for your feet to swell.  I like moccasins or boat shoes - they have more substance than ballet flats but aren't as sweaty as sneakers (see comments on sweating below) and don't require socks.  During both 12 hour flights you'll maybe want to put your feet up on an adjacent seat if there's room to do this, but you're not going to want to go into the toilet without shoes on, especially after the 6th hour when every man in the adjacent seats will have dripped just a little wee onto the floor.  You'll also have to slip the shoes off during multiple security clearances.  Bear in mind that while in transit  you'll have to walk for miles inside those giant Asian or American airports so in addition the shoes have to be somewhat supportive and non-blister inducing.  Road test before you go! 
5) When packing, take careful consideration of what you'll want with you during the flight and make sure this is in an easy to grab place.  Once on board put it all into one of those fold-away shopping bags, throw it under the seat in front and stow the rest of your luggage above you, out of the way.  My list of essentials includes: noise-cancelling headphones, inflatable neck pillow, iPad with e-books, my passport and a pen for filling in arrival cards, lip-balm, hand-cream, sleeping mask, lozengers, BLIS travel guard, 1Above flight drink, homeopathic anti-jetlag pills, herbal sleeping tablets,  BB cream, folding toothbrush and mini toothpaste, floss, travel kleenex, small bottle of perfume, travel sewing kit and hand-wipes.  It sounds like a lot but apart from the passport, electronics, neck pillow and 1Above it all fits into a sandwich-sized ziploc bag.
Why is all this essential?  It's personal of course but BLIS travel guard is effective for preventing colds and flu from other passengers (I also take probiotics during the trip).  Jetlag is something I certainly notice, so I take both 1Above and homeopathic remedies - they don't really work but the physical effect is much better than if I don't take them.  The toothbrush/paste, perfume, BB cream, floss and wipes are there for getting a bit refreshed before exiting the plane, the sewing kit is in case of button-loss or tears, and the lip-balm and handcream prevent my hands and lips from chapping which they would otherwise do in the very dry air-conditioning and with frequent hand-wishing (see below).  The lozengers aren't too essential unless I have a cold.  There's nothing worse than listening to someone cough on a plane.  I also list noise-cancelling headphones as essential if you can get them, because they really save your ears from the volume that would otherwise be required to hear movies above the sound of the plane.
6) Stay hydrated by asking the flight attendant to fill a 1 litre bottle during the first drinks service and drinking up during the flight.  This will help you to wee often - which gets you up and moving, and helps prevent blood-clots and sore muscles from sitting too long.
7) Pack as lightly as possible and make sure you keep it as modular as possible.  The more bags and crap you have to remember the worse off you'll be, especially in transit where you may have to collect your checked bag between flights and re-check it, while also juggling your laptop bag and personal item.  If you have trouble with packing lightly make sure your checked bag has wheels so it doesn't break you in half.  And make sure everything you're carrying has a specific place in your bags - when jetlagged and under-slept, it's surprisingly easy to leave small items - like passports or phones - behind.
8) Check nothing you can't manage without.  When flying super-long haul you're likely to be away for at least a few weeks so you'll probably have to check at least one bag, but be strategic. Recently a friend flew to her destination wedding and her baggage was lost for the duration of the trip.  No wedding dress.  No make-up.  Complete disaster.  I have a personal rule never to check electronics, so I have a moderate-sized laptop bag into which I can pack my DSLR, my laptop, my iPad and all my chargers.  I can then take an additional personal item with all of the essentials previously listed plus some other stop-gaps.
9) Carry a clean pair of underwear or two and a clean t-shirt.  While wandering those enormous equatorial airports it will be warm.  You will sweat.  If you're traveling to or from winter you may be over-dressed.  And you will have been wearing the clothing you're in for 16-24 hours.  There's nothing as grotty as sitting in a wet t-shirt and sweaty undies as you wait for your second 12-hour flight to take off, so save yourself the agony.  You can also make things just a tiny bit nicer in that transit time by showering right before you leave the house for the airport, so you're generally as fresh as possible.  Handwipes and kleenex (mentioned above) allow for a bit of a field-shower in the transit toilets if you feel the need.
10) Try to sleep according to the timezone you're going to.  This is advice I can never take as I find it almost impossible to sleep cramped in long-haul seats, especially with the temptation of free movies right in front of me, so I just do my best.  The 12- hour long-haul legs you'll be flying start and end with a meal service and have a 8-hour period of lights-out in the middle, regardless of the timezones involved.  If you can't sleep in accordance with your new timezone, just try and get any sleep.  Any shut-eye is better than none when you arrive dazed in transit and need to figure out how to get through security and to your next boarding gate which is likely to be more than a kilometre away.  Some sleep is also important when you arrive at your final destination feeling like a*s and having to navigate an unfamiliar city to get to your accommodation.
11) Go light on the alcohol and coffee.  It's going to keep you awake and unless you're flying Air New Zealand the wine will be vinegar anyway.
12) Before you touch down for transit, brush your teeth and wash your face to get alert, fill in your arrival card and put it with your passport ready for passport control, then set your watch and/or phone to local time.  You don't want to miss your next boarding call in your under-slept, jetlagged state.
13) When you arrive in transit, locate your bag if necessary, clear passport control and security, re-check your bag if required and then locate your gate.  Once that's all done you can relax with your iPad, hit duty-free (although I usually window shop only to avoid purchasing anything too big to fit in my personal item) or get food.
14) If you're transiting through Hong Kong I recommend Pizza Express.  Bottomless iced tea and decent free wifi.  Just keep an eye on your flight time and make sure you know how long it will take to get to your gate.
15) Before you arrive at your final destination sort your paperwork, re-set your watch, wash your face and brush your teeth, apply perfume or deodorant, maybe change your underwear again and start thinking about what you're going to need to do as soon as you clear customs and immigration.  I find focusing on what's coming up is a good way to feel clearer and sharper through the inevitable fug of jetlag and fatigue.  It can be a good idea to pre-buy a SIM before you leave New Zealand so that you can start using your phone to navigate public transport like the London Underground as soon as you arrive, without worrying about super-high data charges.
16) On arrival, get onto the new timezone as soon as possible.  This means regardless of the sleep you've had en route, stay up till dark if you arrive during the day, or get up at a normal local time in the morning, even if you've hardly slept.  Make sure you walk around outside in the daylight as soon as you can.  You will feel worst during NZST 4am-5am, whenever that is at your new destination, so if you need to and you can, just take a nap.  For the first day you're going to be pretty useless and that's all part of the fun.
That's it.  Sixteen tips for surviving super-long haul.  I'll be referring back to it on my next trip.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lucy

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 43
Tonight I saw Luc Besson's film Lucy and it made me wish that people who work in the entertainment industry had more of a clue about science and less of a penchant for re-treading cinematic cliches.  But I also acknowledge that what I found a bit overblown, other people may consider to be a highly sophisticated post-modern narrative.
Tropes currently counting their appearance fees include a 2001: A Space Odessy-esque reference to homind ancestors; yakusa-like thugs, cyber-punk and designer drug trafficking (with Taipei standing in for Tokyo); an admittedly new twist on the singularity; the transgressive woman as a witch; the blonde bombshell; the small-car car chase through Paris; transcendence; time-travel and the wisdom of Morgan Freeman.  There are no doubt more but these are the ones my partner and I were able to itemise without strain.
I'm left rolling my eyes but my partner loved it.  On a scale of Pacific Rim to Inception I'd rate it below The Fifth Element for laughs and South of 12 Monkeys for production design, vision and chutzpah.  The special effects are from ILM and they're flawless, as is Scarlett Johansson's performance, but I wasn't so fond of the material detailing what might happen if we were able to use more than 10% of our brain capacity.  The delivery was good, the PowerPoint deck outstanding in places (I speak in a professional capacity) but the concepts therein righteously beggared belief.  That said, if you, like me, are saddled with a partner who loves science fiction, this might not be a bad idea for date night.  Just saying.

Sick again

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 42

I've got nothing interesting to share about the world - my temperature is up and I feel crummy - again.  It's probably nothing much, but after a week of lethargy and gloom I was just starting to feel normal.  Cue the woe.  My 100 Days project looks like a Swiss cheese after the last round.  Must do better.  I'm taking probiotics and a mix of supplements including zinc, vitamin C, olive leaf, echinacea and garlic, but it's obviously not the total answer.  What's that I hear, distant, like a mosquito?  Oh yeah - the sound of the world's smallest violin, playing just for me.

Voice-over!

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 38

Political scandles notwithstanding, I've spent the last two days learning how to be a voice artist, in as much as this is possible in a two day period.  It was a bit intimidating at first, since they start recording you in hour one of the first day and I'm even more allergic to criticism than regular people.  But, as part of the 100 Days Project, this post is not really about my struggles with feedback or what skills I came away with - although it was an intense learning process on a personal level.
In terms of my 'worldly engagement', I finally learned the difference between a condenser mic and the regular kind (the condenser has two membranes which are activated by an electric current, rather than one membrane which is activated by sound).   I also learned that it's possible for voice artists to use online aggregator sites like voices.com to generate enough income to support themselves comfortably.  This may not seem like such a big deal, but it's so difficult to make a living in the creative arts and industries in New Zealand that I'm always pleased to hear when this is actually occurring.  
Hearteningly it's also still possible for some people to work fulltime as a voice artist in NZ through the traditional route of doing a bit of free work, getting enough experience to be able to deliver, and then getting an agent and a profile.  This is doubtless a more difficult route to pursue but given that I don't want to give up my day-job, it might be a better option.  Voice artists on online sites have to be 100% responsive and turn-arounds are really tight - not really something I'd want to mix with my other commitments.
On a more personal level, one thing that came as no surprise is that I'm not at all comfortable with hard selling, but at least I can take direction.  Since I have to dish it out quite often, this is quite the comfort.
I'd recommend the course to anyone who wants to get into voice work or expand their range - you come away with a professionally-produced reel, ideas for managing nerves and looking after your voice and lots of objective feedback.

My mechanic is a right-winger

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 37

My mechanic is one of my favourite service providers.  On days when I have to leave my car for repair he drives me to work while telling hilarious, off-colour stories about his sexual exploits.  He explains any weird noise my car makes on the way, in plain language and without the aid of diagrams.  
One time he came to my apartment building to diagnose the problem with my car alarm.  Said alarm was beeping like a dying puppy in the middle of a 60-car garage and the car was immobilised.  He couldn't fix the alarm but recommended a couple of companies to tow it and stop the noise.  Problem solved and at a surprisingly reasonable cost.
The only thing that gets my mechanic more enthusiastic than cars and sex is politics.  We had a conversation on the drive to work once about why I think tax-funded infra-structure is what makes a country a good place to live.  It was then I realised he was a raving rightie.  And a Whale Oil blog afficionado.  Argh.  It all made so much sense, but not in a good way.  
The next time he drove me to work he told me he'd been banned from Whale Oil and, mind awash with visions of unspeakable linguistic violence, I insisted the he shut up about it.  It was cowardly, in a way, but I knew I'd never get past it and he's only the second mechanic I've met who treats me like a person instead of a vagina attached to a wallet.  There is a conspicuous lack of porno on his premises.  This is not to be sneezed at.
Next time I pass the garage which is a bit more than a block from my place, I'll have to ask what he thinks of the current political scandal.  Some corner of my heart hopes he's experienced some kind of epiphany, but more likely this will simply be a chance for both of us to put the boot in. Politics - it's a rough kind of love.
PS - he's really very good.  If you want his details, let me know.

Craft Kitchen

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 36

Craft Kitchen is an organic, gourmet sort of cafe which opened near the corner of Ponsonby and Great North Roads a bit over a month ago.  The first week it was in business I went in to get a little somthin-somthin on a Friday afternoon.  The cafe was virtually empty apart from a couple in the far corner.  A desultory sort of bleach-blonde was making three coffees with elaborate precision. Looking around for treats, I saw very little beneath the counter glass, and a super-limited menu.  I decided in that moment that Craft Kitchen was utterly hipster in a passive-aggressive 'our taste is utterly always better than yours so feel diminished' kind of way.  If not for a feeling of light-headedness stemming from consumption of an ill-advised frozen margharita with lunch, I probably would have fled.
Instead, like a deer in the proverbial, I waited for service  The barista finished her labour over the coffees and looked up.  Like the old hospo war-horse I am, I suggested she take the coffees out to their respective customers.  She replied that they were for the people working in the kitchen.  At that point I took agin her immediately.  It's bad form to leave customers standing if you're making something for another staff member.  But karma can be a bitch. She went on to charge me $12 for two unpriced yoyos.  Again, if I hadn't been somewhat anaesthetised by the margharita I would have said something, but instead I just stood there stupidly, before paying and leaving.  I stood some more at the corner, blinking in disbelief and nearly went back, but felt it would be bad form since I'd failed to complain at point of sale.  When I got home, I discovered one of the yoyos didn't even have any icing in the middle.  It took the rest of the afternoon to recover.
Fast forward six weeks.  It's Friday afternoon and I'm returning home from the dairy with some chewy lollies, trying anything possible to get myself started on a job involving speadsheets and data management.  As you can see, Friday afternoons are not my finest hour.  Possibly with this in mind I decide to try Craft Kitchen again - the weather is shit, I have a cold and it's the closest place to get a coffee.  Resistance is futile.  
There are two people behind the counter this time and they seem kind of dishevelled in an 'I've been working out the back'  kind of way.  I soon discover this is because they have.  I order a soy decaf latte which is a bitch to make, but there's no attitude and the price is less than what I pay at work.  Emboldened by their general air of slightly confuzzled affability I relate the story of my first encounter with Craft Kitchen.  It turns out they're the owners.  My coffee is free and they press another $2 upon me to make it completely even.  The barista laughs aloud over the $12 yoyos.  The nice counter guy introduces himself and relates some of the challenges involved in starting a business.  It turns out the bleach-blonde barista was 'let go' more than month ago, after a raft of customer complaints.  We chat some more and I leave with my coffee and the promise of a hot toddy on the weekend if one is required.
It's a cliche well-coined and redolent of Aesop, but first impressions are worth revisiting.  I'll definitely be back.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dirty Politics

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 35
As I listen to the response being made to Nicky Hager's book (Dirty Politics) by both prime minister John Key and the MP Judith Collins, I'm struck by how often and how vociferously each of them dismiss the book's contents as unfounded and its writer as 'a left-wing conspiracy theorist', even though neither have read or engaged with the content of the book at all.  But this is absolutely by design.
I hear on the grapevine that the midnight oil was indeed burning last night on the Beehive's 9th floor (which contains the prime minister's office) and it seems clear that staffers were frantically reading the book and confecting response strategies which didn't require any of the main players in the National Party to get to grips with its detail.  Far easier to take a simple position and keep grinding away at it until it becomes 'truth'.
In media interviews I've watched tonight, with Key especially, the style of the response is very similar to a bad comments thread on a blog - it makes sweeping generalisations about the 'other side' and links these consistently to something bad - for example the left all become 'conspiracy theorists' as the phrase 'left-wing conspiracy theorist' gets repeated ad infinitum in reference to Nicky Hager.  And, of course, as this strategy is designed to do, real debate becomes muffled and reduced.  Complex issues such as the ethical and legal dimensions of what the book contains become nothing more than mud-slinging from someone with a biased world-view, all without the substance of Hager's accusations ever needing to be addressed.
It's terribly ironic that Key is denying all significant links to blogger Cameron Slater when he, in person and with the press, is using the exact same techniques Slater does on the blog.  I think the medium has become the message - there is a meta level to this which suggests Dirty Politics is very close to the bone.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sick.

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 34
I've been down with a bad cold over the last five days and before that I was just bunking off, so I have a lot of retrospective writing to do.
As I write now, this minute, my partner, the sysop at New Zealand's largest left-wing blog (thestandard.org.nz), is watching a mass of comments appearing as Nicky Hager's book "Dirty Politics" cuts a swathe through the blogosphere.  If you're not someone with a specific interest in New Zealand politics, the implications of organised right-wing smear campaigns via "Whale Oil", the blog of one Cameron Slater, will be lost on you, but this is what the book addresses, using as its base material 8GB of emails posted to Hager on a USB drive.  National Party leadership, including Jason Ede from the prime minister's office and Judith Collins, are in the mix, as is John Key (that's our prime minister if you're not from around here).
As I was reminded during a conversation with a solidly centrist work friend today, I am left-wing unto death, but rather than deriving satisfaction from the right-wing blood that is surely spilling as I type, I find the revelations in the book's preface (released here online) very depressing. According to Hager, Slater's campaigns have intimidated journalists and news outlets.  They have also kept the focus of news media and other public venues off political issues and debate and on the personal lives of politicians outside National.  But possibly worst of all, there has been "concerted manipulation of National's candidate selection process".  All three points represent serious harm to the fabric of democracy in this country.  The first two because they switch people off politics and because they make it impossible to vote in an informed way, while the third point represents a literal infringement of democratic process.
I have no doubt that there will a lot of activity on the blogs tonight and I would imagine that the midnight oil is burning bright at the Beehive as Winston Peter's office has already sent through a press-release as well as an advisory.  What I hope is that enough of us understand, past the accusations, the spin and the commentary, that we are brought low, as a democracy.  I hope we remember that and find a way to do something about it.

Wine at Old Government House


This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 27
I freely admit that in posting the photo above I'm cheating on the assignment I've given myself for my 100 Days Project. The photo is a record of a couple of drinks I had with my friend Troy after work more than a year ago. I like it, although it's not perfect. I made it with my iphone using an app called Retrica and it's one of the pictures that made me want to start doing photography again. 
I find photography allows me to be more present in a time and place than writing does. Especially when traveling, I find myself more engaged with where I am and what's happening around me when I'm looking through the lens, and this is something I really value and like. So maybe this post isn't entirely a cheat after all...

Gaza

This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 26
I have opinions about the situation in Gaza. I feel they're uninformed but it's impossible not to have them.  My current thinking is summarised in a comment I made on a Facebook thread following a Huffington Post article I shared - you can see it below.  One of the positions the author of the article took was that Hamas are allowing children to die because it makes for Western sympathy and useful media spin.
"I wrote something this morning about clever strategies and dead children but it gets endlessly recursive. Israel wins because Hamas is wiping itself out by allowing Palestinian children aka future Hamas members to be killed, no - Hamas wins because Israel doesn't have that many bombs and eventually the West will step in on Gaza's side to end the slaughter, no - wait - nobody wins because this is SHIT. Death like this makes me vomit in my mouth."
For a primer I had this article recommended by a friend.  It's been written by someone with a giant intellect and a somewhat frightening interest in war and is probably worth consideration.

Cafe art


This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 25

I love this image.  I took this photo of it in a cafe in summer, meaning to use it as wallpaper on my phone, and then forgot about it.  I wish I could identify the artist.

Rain


This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 24

It's raining and although I wanted to go for a walk because my back is hurting, this put me off.  So I took some pictures of what I could see without going into the rain.  This is the view from my back door.

Probiotics and mood


This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 23
In a previous blog post I mentioned in passing that I when I take probiotics, my mood (especially anxiety) is noticeably, if subtly improved.  The amazing thing about this to me is that I had no idea that gut and mood are linked before I started taking the probiotics.  I was puzzled as to what had happened until I went googling and found articles summarising recent research findings on the subject.  It's therefore unlikely my observations were due to the placebo effect.  
Lactobacillus acidophilos Rosell-52 and Bifidobacterium longum Rosell-175 have been cited in a French trial report as reducing anxiety.  This occurs because the bacteria release neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and gamma-Aminobutyric acid.  The gut has been called the 'second brain' because the enteric nervous system which runs it requires significant amounts of these neurotransmitters, but once in the system, they also have an affect on our 'first brain' and thus our moods.
Today I purchased a bottle of a more complete probiotic than I've taken before.  It has more of the bacteria likely to improve mood.  I'm interested to see what the results might be.  

A chance to give, and go, back

Volunteers from p3 Foundation play with children at a rural village school in Kalimpong, West Bengal, India.
This post is part of the 100 Days Project
Day 22
At the end of 2012 I shot a promo video for an NGO working on ground-up village development in Kalimpong.  At that time I had the privilege of meeting Saom Namchu who runs the NGO and has a great deal of commitment, passion and ideas, and an amazing ability to get shit done.
Over the last five years or so the majority of homes and rural government schools in the Kalimpong area (hundreds of families and thousands of people) have been afforded access to toilets and a clean, year-round supply of water.  These projects involve a project contract between the NGO and the village.  The NGO supplies skilled labour and materials, and the village, many of whom are day labourers, supply the unskilled labour.  The village makes decisions about their projects and the resources involved at village meetings, which draw on a cross-section of people, and then when both parties are satisfied the projects are signed off.  
As the government is now supplying toilets and water projects, the NGO is moving into education, which I'm pretty passionate about.  Since 2012 it's been my mission to go back to Kalimpong and offer workshops on media production for NGOs and schools, since that's what I know how to do, and because I know from my first trip that contact with the wider world is greatly appreciated by those who are resource-poor.
I assumed it would be a simple affair of me showing up with a few scrounged cameras and having fun with some kids and maybe a workshop with a handful of adults.  However Saom has run with my idea, and decided to create an entire two-day workshop covering social media communications, MS Office software, shooting and editing videos, and photography, with a photographer and film production tutor coming in from other parts of India as well.
So I will be starting to fundraise to pay for my airfare and accommodation quite soon, as well as starting to develop a curriculum.  And it's very exciting!

In America

Alcatraz and the American flag.  June 2014
This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 21

I took this photo on the boat back from Alcatraz, egged on by my friend Kelly who thought the flag flying on the stern would make a nice addition to the composition.  We looked at the resulting images on my camera and Kelly said 'because nothing says America like the flag, and prison'.
Kelly lives in San Francisco and is as well-placed to comment as anyone else. However as I traveled around the States, I was struck by how open and trusting people were.  I literally lost count of the number of times well-meaning tourists would walk up to me, shove their expensive electronics into my hands and say 'can you take my picture?'.  I also received more compliments about my personal appearance than I ever have in my life.  Mostly on my hair colour, but sometimes on my cut or the top I was wearing.  One woman asked I had been on the TV that day. It was very strange.
I'm not sure this openness and generosity of spirit would have extended to me if I was not a white person, but it was, naturally, an enormous contrast to what I know about America. The land of individual enterprise, competition, no safety nets.  The land of gun crime, extremes of income and randomised street violence leading to lengthy incarceration, often of innocent people.  
In the end, I concluded that as I was mostly in tourist areas, people were in a holiday frame of mind.  But I also wondered if America's vastness and its lack of social welfare means that in order to function, citizens have to frame everyone around them as a neighbour.  There are no strangers here, just friends we haven't met.  
It certainly made for a pleasant, if somewhat puzzling vacation.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Oil-pulling

This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 20

Oil pulling is an Ayurvedic technique for oral hygiene which is doing the rounds on social media.  It involves putting a tablespoon of oil in your mouth and pulling it around and between your teeth for 20 minutes before spitting it out and rinsing with hot salt water.  The practice has been touted on as the cure to everything from bad breath to eczema to cancer and adherents also claim it whitens teeth.  
I first heard about oil pulling when I was in Las Vegas, as the guide on my tour of the Grand Canyon was a big fan.  He didn't mention anything to do with cancer, just oral health benefits, and I thought I'd try it once to see if it cleared out more than the average amount of gunk.  It didn't - at least not on the first try.  I was still able to floss out all kinds of things.
So - having had the experience I did a bit more reading and - surprise - oil-pulling has been debunked by pundits who prefer science to inform their choices.  The downside includes slightly increased risk of lipoid pneumonia (which can result from aspirated oil), with unproven development of plaque that's harder to clean.  A slight reduction in oral bacteria is apparently true, but is slightly less effective than chlorhexidine mouthwash.
In my personal experience of oral health, the best thing you can do for your teeth is to cut out sugar and complex carbohydrates.  When I did this I had so little plaque that my dentist commented on it.  But this information is purely anecdotal and I'm telling you by way of the internet, so I urge you to draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Casual Sex Project


This post is part of the 100 Days Project

Day 18

An NYU professor, Zhana Vrangalova, has started a website that allows people to detail their experiences of casual sex.  This has grown out of her work in developmental psychology and a PhD about casual sexual encounters.  
The stories shared on thecasualsexproject.com are an interesting read - slightly titilating for sure but also oddly profound, especially if you read a good handful of them together. The writers range in age from 19 -70 and have multifarious sexual orientations, and the majority of reported hook-ups are postitive experiences.  Unsurprisingly, it appears that desire is experienced in a very similar way by most humans, and that genuine physical desire is the single most important thing in determining if a one-night stand is going to be perceived positively by the people involved in it. 
I think there's something in that for everyone...